Mastering tips and tricks

Discussion in 'Production' started by Mr Fletch, Oct 10, 2009.

  1. Mr Fletch

    Mr Fletch aka KRONIX

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    Mastering/Mixdown tips and tricks

    I see various threads with people asking mastering/mixdown techniques and tips and thought it would be a good idea to have somewhere where us noobs could come and get some info easily.

    The majority of feedback on new production focuses on the "mixdown" and this can be very hard to achieve effectively. I see alot of phrases like "bouncing down" "fill the spectrum" "thicker" "Cleaner" etc etc. But for us who have no musical background, and are just starting out this can be quite daunting and confusing.

    So what I propose is that we dedicate this thread to any mastering/mixdown tips or tricks you may know. And take time to explain in detail what the terminologies you use, actually mean.

    I myself am new to production, and alot of things I have suggested here are things that I commonly get confused with, so with a community full of various degrees of talent and skill, and a neverending flow of new members, what better way to help the new blood and help the community grow, than to share these secrets?
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2009
  2. Fratanize

    Fratanize Keepin the jungle alive

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    widening genrally means to increase the stereo sound. Where a kick drum sounds very mono and central in the mix, some sound seem to pan around from each speaker to speaker or sound like they are coming from the side of you rather than in front. Heightening and filling the spectrum is filling the space you have with different frequencies. Mainly high, medium and low freqs. Drum n bass obviously having a lot of low freqs, it is essential to balance the tune out with mids and highs to stop it sounding muddy.
    To experiment with this, save whatever track you have made then sit and tweak the panning settings for each mixer track. Sit and listen to how the track subtly changes. Some things will sound crap. Making some elements more stereo-wide can lessen the impact they have, the thump.
    You might make a synth tune that sounds quite dominant in the track. If you make it wider (stereo panning) you can lessen its dominance and make room for other elements to be inserted. Stereo widening can thin a sound out subtly.
    It really is about experimenting.
    Hope i didnt just write a load of old cobblers.
    peace
    Bouncing down is a way to reduce cpu usage. If you use massive to make a lead melody, you can save that melody segment as a wav or mp3 and bring it back into the tune as an audio sample which uses alot less cpu. Then delete the instance of massive you have loaded up. You can do this with fx too. Use loads of fx plugs on something, bounce the finished result and reinsert as a wav. then delete the fx plugs. You get the same result without all the plugs eating at your cpu. It is a little time consuming tho and can limit your automation options.
    Cleaner is about the quality of what you are hearing. For instance if you have an instrument with two oscillators playing different waveforms. Do those two wave forms work together without clashing elements that can make a sound distort too heavily. A clean sample is a sample without noise, hiss, pops, etc. Cleaner refers to a sound sounding more polished. Its a physical reference to discribe audio quality.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2009
  3. motion audio

    motion audio Active Member

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    Mastering is something a lot of people tend to confuse with mixing down. In the true sense of the word is not something that you can do yourself at home, in general it requires high end equipment, along with a really good and well designed listening environment.

    Its usualy described as part of the "post production" process, so think of production (in the case of DnB and other electronic music) to be the writing, arranging, and mixing of a tune. When the final mix is done, and all sounding how you want it to sound, a mastering engineer will take that tune, and basicly do the "finishing touches", so maybe applying some EQ, compression etc, to get the tune to sound good across all different systems, and generaly make sure it sounds as good as it can. In the case of an album/EP or similar, they will make sure each of the tunes sound like they belong on the same cd/vinyl and flow well when played one after another.

    Some people will no doubt tell you to just "stick a limiter, compressor and EQ on the master bus and then get it sounding loud", this isnt really mastering, the treatment a tune requires will differ depending on the final mix, type of tune, what its intended use is, and lots of other things.
     
  4. richie_stix

    richie_stix gomby plz

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    Stolen from a thread entitled 'production bible'... if ya want the original just search for it!

    This is the most important part of producing... without this information youre better off not producing. I dont know what you know but this is very helpfull chart to use. There are many out there and there is no such thing as only one way to eq you just have to feel it out. Follow these guidelines and youre beats n bass will sound better. Also remember not to boost to much and always cut out 50-0 on youre kick drums eq... that room is for the bassline. Also on say a snare cut out anything less than 100 hz this keeps room again for other stuff, whatever frequencies youre not using always cut them out. Hope this helps you. If you need anything else hit me up here. Or have any questions. I held myself back for years not knowing this information. Just make sure n eq all youre instruments for a much cleaner sound. Also i can give you sample packs of shit. Ez

    PART I – Instruments and EQ


    Kick Drum

    Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off around 300 Hz. Try a small boost around 5-7 kHz to add some high end.

    60-100 Hz ~ Adds bottom to the sound
    100-250 Hz ~ Adds fullness
    250-800 Hz ~ Muddiness area
    2.5 kHz ~ Slap attack
    5-8 kHz ~ Adds high end presence
    8-12 kHz ~ Adds hiss and rattle


    Snare

    Try a small boost around 60-120 Hz if the sound is a little too wimpy. Try boosting around 6 kHz for that 'snappy' sound. Snares are often the driving force of dnb and they take on so many forms that it really comes down to "time spent" here. Experimentation is the key... but here are general guidelines:

    220-260 Hz ~ Fatness
    5 kHz ~ Crispness
    6-8 kHz ~ Adds presence


    Hi hats or cymbals

    Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off around 300 Hz. To add some brightness try a small boost around 3 kHz.

    200Hz ~ Clank or gong sound
    250-800 Hz ~ Muddiness area
    1-6 kHz ~ Adds presence
    6-8 kHz ~ Adds shimmer and clarity
    8-12 kHz ~ Adds brightness


    Rack Toms

    240 Hz ~ Fullness
    5 kHz ~ Crack / smack attack


    Floor Toms

    80-120 Hz ~ Fullness
    5 kHz ~ Crack / smack attack


    Bass Guitar

    Try boosting around 60 Hz to add more body. Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off around 300 Hz. If more presence is needed, boost around 6 kHz. Most of this will apply to any bassline.

    50-100 Hz ~ Adds bottom end
    100-250 Hz ~ Adds fullness
    250-700 Hz ~ Muddiness Area
    700-1000 Hz ~ Pluck sound
    2.5 kHz ~ String noise / pop
    3-6 kHz ~ Adds presence
    6-8 kHz ~ Adds high-end presence
    8-12 kHz ~ Adds hiss


    Vocals

    This is a difficult one, as it depends on the mic used to record the vocal. However...Apply either cut or boost around 300 Hz, depending on the mic and song. Apply a very small boost around 6 kHz to add some clarity.

    100-250 Hz ~ Adds 'up-frontness' / boom
    250-800 Hz ~ Muddiness area
    2-6 kHz ~ Adds presence
    6-8 kHz ~ Adds sibilance and clarity
    8-12 kHz ~ Adds brightness


    Piano

    Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off around 300 Hz. Apply a very small boost around 6 kHz to add some clarity.

    80-120 Hz ~ Adds bottom
    120-250 Hz ~ Adds body
    250-1 kHz ~ Muddiness area
    2.5-5 kHz ~ Adds presence
    6-8 kHz ~ Adds clarity
    10 kHz ~ Crisp attack
    12-14 kHz ~ Adds hiss


    Electric guitars

    Again this depends on the mix and the recording. Apply either cut or boost around 300 Hz, depending on the song and sound. Try boosting around 3 kHz to add some edge to the sound, or cut to add some transparency. Try boosting around 6 kHz to add presence. Try boosting around 10 kHz to add brightness.

    200-250 Hz ~ Adds fullness
    250-800 Hz ~ Muddiness area
    2.5 kHz ~ Adds bite
    5-8 kHz ~ Adds clarity
    8-12 kHz ~ Adds hiss


    Acoustic guitar

    Any apparent muddiness can be rolled off between 100-300 Hz. Apply small amounts of cut around 1-3 kHz to push the image higher. Apply small amounts of boost around 5 kHz to add some presence.

    80-120 Hz ~ Bottom end
    120-250 Hz ~ Adds body
    2.5-5 kHz ~ Adds clarity
    8-12 kHz ~ Adds brightness


    Horns

    There are many types of horns and EQ will affect each in drastically different ways. Here’s a few common EQ affects for most types of horns.

    120-240 Hz ~ Fullness
    5-7.5 kHz ~ Shrillness


    Strings

    These depend entirely on the mix and the sound used.

    50-100 Hz ~ Adds bottom end
    250 Hz ~ Adds fullness
    250-800 Hz ~ Muddiness area
    1-6 kHz ~ Sounds crunchy
    7.5-10 kHz ~ Scratchiness
    11-14 kHz ~ Adds brightness

    PART II – Frequencies and Domains

    50 Hz

    1. Increase to add more fullness to lowest frequency instruments like foot, toms, and the bass.
    2. Reduce to decrease the "boom" of the bass and will increase overtones and the recognition of bass line in the mix. This is most often used on bass lines in Rap and R&B.

    100 Hz

    1. Increase to add a harder bass sound to lowest frequency instruments.
    2. Increase to add fullness to guitars, snare.
    3. Increase to add warmth to piano and horns.
    4. Reduce to remove boom on guitars & increase clarity.

    200 Hz

    1. Increase to add fullness to vocals.
    2. Increase to add fullness to snare and guitar (harder sound).
    3. Reduce to decrease muddiness of vocals or mid-range instruments.
    4. Reduce to decrease gong sound of cymbals.

    400 Hz

    1. Increase to add clarity to bass lines especially when speakers are at low volume.
    2. Reduce to decrease "cardboard" sound of lower drums (foot and toms).
    3. Reduce to decrease ambiance on cymbals.

    800 Hz

    1. Increase for clarity and "punch" of bass.
    2. Reduce to remove "cheap" sound of guitars

    1.5 kHz

    1. Increase for "clarity" and "pluck" of bass.
    2. Reduce to remove dullness of guitars.

    3 kHz

    1. Increase for more "pluck" of bass.
    2. Increase for more attack of electric / acoustic guitar.
    3. Increase for more attack on low piano parts.
    4. Increase for more clarity / hardness on voice.
    5. Reduce to increase breathy, soft sound on background vocals.
    6. Reduce to disguise out-of-tune vocals / guitars

    5 kHz

    1. Increase for vocal presence.
    2. Increase low frequency drum attack (foot/toms).
    3. Increase for more "finger sound" on bass.
    4. Increase attack of piano, acoustic guitar and brightness on guitars.
    5. Reduce to make background parts more distant.
    6. Reduce to soften "thin" guitar.

    7 kHz

    1. Increase to add attack on low frequency drums (more metallic sound).
    2. Increase to add attack to percussion instruments.
    3. Increase on dull singer.
    4. Increase for more "finger sound" on acoustic bass.
    5. Reduce to decrease sibilance (the “s”) on vocals.
    6. Increase to add sharpness to synthesizers, rock guitars, acoustic guitar and piano.

    10 kHz

    1. Increase to brighten vocals.
    2. Increase for "light brightness" in acoustic guitar and piano.
    3. Increase for hardness on cymbals.
    4. Reduce to decrease sibilance (the “s”) on vocals.

    15 kHz

    1. Increase to brighten vocals (breath sound).
    2. Increase to brighten cymbals, string instruments and flutes.
    3. Increase to make sampled synthesizer sound more real.
     
  5. richie_stix

    richie_stix gomby plz

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    EQ Applications and Understanding


    Although most equalization is done by ear, it’s helpful to have an idea about which frequencies affect an instrument in order to achieve and particular effect (hence my tables above). Let’s start at the very beginning: what is frequency? Frequency is the wavelength of sound. That is to say, it is the rate at which a sound wave completes a cycle of positive and negative amplitude. The number of cycles that occurs in one full second is the frequency of a sound wave and that is measured in Hertz (Hz). You will also frequently see the term Kilohertz (kHz) used when talking about sound waves; 1 kHz is equal to 1000 Hz.

    When sound waves overlap they combine into a new wave and the frequencies interfere, enhance, and cancel each other. This is where equalization (EQ) comes into play. Equalizers allow you to control the frequencies of sound and thus allow you to shape your music so it sounds better (or worse). It is not enough to just have a bunch of great samples and sounds and throw them together thinking it will sound good. Once sounds overlap they change each other and you must be able to control that change or you end up with a sonic mess. Equalization will allow you to cut and boost certain frequencies within each of your sounds/instruments so that they do not interfere with each other (at least not as much).

    On the whole the audio spectrum can be divided into four frequency bands: LOW (20-200Hz), LOW-MIDDLE (200-1000Hz), HIGH-MIDDLE (1-5kHz), and HIGH (5-20kHz):



    LOW: 20-200 Hz

    This range is often known as the sub bass and is most commonly taken up by the lowest part of the kick drum and bass guitar; although at these frequencies it's almost impossible to determine any pitch. Anything below 40 Hz is not heard at all by human ears but can be felt, especially in the chest. Sub bass is one of the reasons why 12" vinyl became available: low frequencies require wider grooves than high frequencies - without rolling off everything below 50 Hz you couldn't fit a full track onto a 7" vinyl record. However I do NOT recommend applying any form of boost around this area without the use of very high quality studio monitors (not home monitors - there is a vast difference between home near-field and studio far-field monitors costing anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000). Boosting blindly in this area without a valid reference point can and will permanently damage most speakers, even PA systems. You have been warned!


    LOW-MIDDLE: 200-1000 Hz

    This is the range you're adjusting when applying bass boost in the upper ranges to add some presence or clarity to your low end instruments. This is also the main culprit area for muddy sounding mixes. Most frequencies around here can cause psycho-acoustic problems: if too many sounds in a mix are dominating this area, a track can quickly become annoying.


    HIGH-MIDDLE: 1-5 kHz

    Human hearing is extremely sensitive at these frequencies, and even a minute boost around here will result in a huge change in the sound (almost the same as if you boosted around 10 dB at any other range). This is because our voices are centered in this area, so it's the frequency range we hear more than any other. Most telephones work at 3 kHz, because at this frequency speech is most intelligible. This frequency also covers TV stations, radio, and electric power tools. If you have to apply any boosting in this area, be very cautious, especially on vocals. We're particularly sensitive to how the human voice sounds and its frequency coverage.


    HIGH: 5-20 kHz

    This is the range you adjust when applying the treble boost on your home stereo. This area is slightly boosted to make sounds artificially brighter when mastering a track before burning it to CD. The high end area also includes the higher frequencies of cymbals and hi-hats, but boosting around this range, particularly around 12 kHz can make a recording sound more high quality than it actually is, and it's a technique commonly used by the recording industry to fool people into thinking that certain CDs are more hi-fidelity than they'd otherwise sound. However, boosting in this area also requires a lot of care - it can easily pronounce any background hiss, and using too much will result in a mix becoming irritating. Anything over 20 kHz cannot be heard by human ears.

    One way to zero in a particular frequency using an equalizer is to set the amount of boost for all frequencies to near maximum and drop out each affected range one at a time until the problem frequency is found. If you find yourself boosting one frequency and then subsequently boosting most of the other frequencies to bring your sound back to how you want it you should probably just increase the overall gain of that sound. If an overall gain increase doesn’t sound satisfactory, it may be that one range of frequencies is too dominant and requires attenuation.

    Recording with EQ is a highly debated subject. Some people record with EQ in order to make up for bad microphone placement or room acoustics. If you are unsure of how you want your finished sound to be heard then you should probably record without EQ so that you can make dramatic changes to the sound sample later. It is easy to boost frequencies, but it is a thousand times more difficult to cut frequencies out, and you may find that you need your sound to take on totally different qualities once it is thrown into the big picture of your song. Recording with more than one mic is the perfect solution as you can EQ one and leave another flat. Later you can take what bits of EQ you want from each and combine them.

    An equalizer is one of the most powerful tools of the musician and used properly it can greatly enhance or restore the sonic balance of your mix. Experimentation is the key so don’t think I gave you any real knowledge just now; this is just a guide and a suggestion. Keep in mind an equalizer won’t be able to make up for dodgy recording techniques. It is simply a tool for correcting the minor problems of acoustics, enhancing what you have, and for cleaning the extra junk out of your mix.
     
  6. motion audio

    motion audio Active Member

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    ^ Some really good information in there, but again its pretty much all to do with mixing, not mastering.
     
  7. Mr Fletch

    Mr Fletch aka KRONIX

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    This is the reason I have started this thread, to the novice like myself, mixdown and mastering may be considered the same thing. I am trying to get the communities input on all aspects of the mixdown/mastering techniques to help the newcomers such as myself get a better understanding on how to make their beats sound more proffessional. Thus creating a better community, with better overall sounding tunes for us all to listen to.
     
  8. richie_stix

    richie_stix gomby plz

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    thats cos mixdown is something the producers do and mastering (95% of the time) is what you outsource to a pro!

    http://dnbforum.com/showthread.php?t=83981&highlight=mixdown+mastering

    read this thread for more info! ;)
     
  9. motion audio

    motion audio Active Member

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    I know, but the thread title is "Mastering tips and tricks", so what I was trying to get at, is that putting mixdown tips in here is going to confuse people even more.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2009
  10. Mr Fletch

    Mr Fletch aka KRONIX

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    My apologies for being a noob. But infact that is why I started this thread, because most people just starting out will not realise the difference, as I did not until now. And here we can share the advice and tips for both.

    Please lets not turn this thread into a big debate about whether we should know it as mastering or mixdown. Lets just share what we know to help others
     
  11. motion audio

    motion audio Active Member

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    You've got nothing to apologise for mate (y).

    Anyways, I wasnt trying to start an argument, so my bad if it seemed like that! Just trying to clear up that the two are completely seperate processes because, as you say, a lot of people seem to think theyre the same.

    Mixing is the last part of the "production" process, and in most cases of electronic/dance music, the last part of the process that is done by the "producer". (the reason I say electronic music, is because in terms of live music recording, a "producer" is a somewhat different role).

    Mastering, as I said before, is not something that can be done properly yourself at home, unless you have a mastering studio handy! A lot of people seem to think that sticking a limiter on the tune and cranking the overall volume of it up is mastering, which its not (thats not to say limiting is never a part of mastering).

    Proper mastering is all the final touches and processing to get the tune sounding as good and pollished as it possibly can across all systems, and bouncing it down to a final Master which will then be the source for all pressings. The format of the master will depend on the format the tune is going out on, so for vinyls the master will be the disk thats used to press the vinyls, for Downloads it would be a WAV/Mp3 file, and for CD's it should be bounced to a high resolution recorder (a lot of mastering engineers will argue that burning the master to a CD to then copy to other CD's will lack in quality).
     
  12. Code:Red

    Code:Red Defiant

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    just read a few things out of some of the posts and i've learnt alot of litle tips already, big thread!
     
  13. Mr Fletch

    Mr Fletch aka KRONIX

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    Yeah hopefully we can get this thread to become an epic library of mixdown and mastering tips.
     
  14. CH3SH

    CH3SH CH3SH - Naphalm Audio

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    This thread deserves a sticky =D
    Although alot of it is common sense and nowt i havent already read about before, its summink that can help new producers on there way to certainty =]
     
  15. fastfret

    fastfret Member

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  16. Mr Fletch

    Mr Fletch aka KRONIX

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    This to me is the big thing. Once you have been producing a while ( or indeed just being on this site a while) I'm sure it does just become common sense. But for the new guys (such as myself) who have no musical background or experience, that want to get their tunes to sound as good as possible, I think it would be a huge asset to have a place to come and read up on some mixdown / mastering tips.

    In the end all of us will benefit as there will be higher quality tunes for us all to bop our head to.
     
  17. richie_stix

    richie_stix gomby plz

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    at the end of the day... mastering is something producers should be aware of but not actually doing (unless they are really good at it)... the big boys don't do it, so why should we?

    During the mixdown process, you should be getting your tune to sound as good as possible accross a range of systems.... then the complete file (not seperate files for chanels/tracks) is sent to the mastering studio where it is polished and honed to get the best out of it!

    Mastering is not a cure for a bad mixdown!
     
  18. DanDnB

    DanDnB Bass and Drums

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    Excuse my noobness.

    But this is what I am understandnig.

    Mixing down is EQing, limiting, arranging, building a track peice by peice first.

    And Mastering is taking that track, a string of sound and performing all necessary EQ and compression etc... on the master track, hence the word mastering?

    If someone is really good at mixing down a track, then he technically wouldnt need it to be mastered correct?

    If someone creates a track, and in the track a piano clashes with a trumpet, and the producer did not EQ them or pan them together, you cannot fix that during the mastering process because that is a failure of the mixdown. Am I right on this assumption?

    Mixing down requires some attention to detail, you are predetermined to get it as polished as possible so mastering is minimal. That's what I understand.
     
  19. richie_stix

    richie_stix gomby plz

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    Pretty much spot on, but i have corrected your post to be more accurate... mastering should be done in a mastering suite, and i assume most of us on here don't have one!
     
  20. motion audio

    motion audio Active Member

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    Called mastering because the last process of it is to bounce it down to a final "Master".